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WhatsApp met with pushback for facial recognition, fingerprint login

Photo credit: Antonbe/Pixabay

In a digitally savvy environment where facial recognition and fingerprint logins are normalized in certain parts of the world—Beijing being one of many—it was all but certain that the software would continue to increase in popularity. Under Trump’s presidency, the top 20 airports in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City were already scanning people’s faces whether they liked it or not.

Even with upgraded and new smartphones continuously adding facial recognition and fingerprint software options, social media users were still caught off-guard when the biometrics option became a requirement for them on WhatsApp. The company’s decision to make facial and fingerprint logins mandatory for unlocking the app became a hot topic this week.

Although the social media company insists that the chats are private (i.e. “for your eyes only”), users are still wary of the security measures taken for saving their faces and fingerprints for continuous use. For users with darker skin tones, there is mistrust regarding how the software has reportedly been used in relationship to law enforcement.

For others though, it has nothing to do with race or skin tones and everything to do with privacy issues. Considering Mark Zuckerberg (who is worth about $94.6 billion) owns Facebook and Instagram, in addition to WhatsApp, users who are already hesitant about how the social media software is using their browsing history in one platform are even more paranoid about what happens when they now have access to three accounts.

And unlike Facebook and Instagram, WhatsApp offers users the option to make audio calls from all over the world, in addition to its universal text messaging, group chat and video call features. Skip the SMS messaging and call data rates with local mobile companies. This software is free—to an extent.

Facebook and WhatsApp users have grown increasingly convinced that the software is keeping up with too much of their information. To an extent, they’re not wrong. On WhatsApp’s own site, the response is vague, “We may share information about you within our family of companies to facilitate, support and integrate their activities and improve our services.”

However, the official account insists that it does not do any of the following:

  • Keep logs of who users are calling or texting
  • See shared location on its software (or Facebook)
  • Share contacts with Facebook
  • Expose private groups

“End-to-end encryption ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read or listen to what is sent, and nobody in between, not even WhatsApp,” according to WhatsApp’s security page.

Although the app already utilized a Quick Response (QR) code for users to securely log in, that still remains. The biometric login is just the first step to get to that QR code. Smartphone users who already have moody biometric login options (the fingerprint and facial recognition options work sometimes and then randomly stop recognizing you) should be prepared for that to potentially continue. The biometric authentication is handled by the user’s smartphone operating system. WhatsApp confirms that it cannot access the biometric information stored by your device’s operating system. So users who had the option of skipping this step on their smartphones before definitely will not be able to do so now.

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